Two op-eds in the Oregonian discuss the merits of the sit-lie ordinance. One from the very well respected and engaging Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese. The Commander argues that the sit-lie ordinance is needed for the communities quality of life.
With the ruling in June, the only tool police now have to address sidewalk obstruction is the state disorderly conduct statute, a criminal offense, which raises the question: Should the police arrest someone engaged in sidewalk obstruction using a criminal statute? It seems a little like driving a thumbtack with a sledgehammer.
The ordinance, on the other hand, strikes a balance that allows police to keep the sidewalks free for pedestrian travel while recognizing the many exceptions that may legitimately apply (people waiting for goods or services such as TriMet riders, medical issues and protests). The police can only issue citations after warning a person that their behavior is a problem, and the charge is a violation that can result in community service or a fine.
Most important to note is that the majority of citations have been issued to “road warriors,” young adults between 18 and 30 years of age. They’re the ones engaged in aggressive panhandling and intimidating behavior in downtown. I’ve talked to nearly a hundred of these young adults over the past three years. Most are addicted to heroin or alcohol. They travel across the country and don’t have ties to our community.
The op-ed continues…
The sidewalk obstruction ordinance is one of the few tools the police have that allows us to engage the road warriors and local street youth in a fairly low-level enforcement manner. In fact, I’ve had several “sidewalk” conversations with the young woman whose case resulted in the recent court ruling. My hope is that this dialogue will help support and encourage her to become clean, sober and permanently housed.
The notion that being homeless means that you can engage in anti-social behavior is not reasonable. So is the idea that the city cannot reasonably regulate the sidewalks in downtown for the common good. Somehow all of us have to find a way to get along. We as a community have to decide what behavior is acceptable and what is not.
As part of the SAFE process, homeless providers and advocates, business leaders, downtown residents and police officers came to the same conclusion: Blocking sidewalks and intimidating other people is not acceptable. Through this ordinance, we had an effective way to address this behavior. The sidewalk obstruction ordinance made downtown a more welcoming and safe place for everyone.
Read Reese’s entire op-ed here.
Genny Nelson, co-founder of Sisters Of The Road argues that outlawing homelessness will not make it go away.
With shelters full and an adequate number of affordable housing units not yet built, we need to stop punishing people dealing with homelessness for human survival activities like sleeping, sitting or lying down outside.
For years now, local efforts across the country to deal with growing homeless populations often start with innocuous-sounding language about the “quality of life” of the housed and business sectors of the community. Or perhaps they are billed as an effort to ensure that communities don’t become a “magnet for the homeless” or, as in Portland, that there is “street access for everyone.”
But over time, more laws and ordinances get passed, and they all have one primary common goal: to remove the presence and resulting impact of people without housing from local communities.
Police who handed out warnings reported being told: I have no place to go; I’m trying to get some sleep; I’m tired of standing; I don’t have a house; My legs are hurting me; and I was only sitting for a moment to rest. When these men and women are unable to pay a fine due to their poverty, and if they are instructed to attend community court but don’t because they contend the ordinance violates their civil rights, they end up with a warrant out for their arrest. Criminalizing homelessness makes no sense.
Remember, local governments cannot legally discriminate against people strictly because they do not have housing. Federal protections prohibit local and state governments from removing people from their communities due to the color of their skin or their economic/employment status.
Nelson ends her op-ed by noting,
It is impossible to fill a $54 billion housing hole with a mere $1.4 billion of annual homelessness-assistance funding and 10-year plans to end homelessness.
If we want to address homelessness in the U.S., we need to stop looking at homeless people as “them,” and we need to start looking at us. If we believe our government represents us, it is we, the people, who must pressure our elected officials to make a real commitment to restore funding for affordable housing. Outlawing homelessness won’t make it go away; nothing ends homelessness like a home.
Read the entire Nelson op-ed here.
Photo by Frank Furter.
Posted by Israel Bayer.